For more than a decade, author Helen Humphreys has owned a property on Ontario’s picturesque Napanee River. Her latest book, The River (ECW Press), is a meditation on the landscape, mixing archival and contemporary photos, illustrations, and maps with Humphreys’s fictional and non-fictional musings on the natural world. Designer Tania Craan discusses how she visually pulled together all the eclectic pieces.
I didn’t work with Helen directly; ECW editor Susan Renouf and art director Rachel Ironstone acted as the go-betweens. Helen did contribute to the different visual components of the book. She already had some images that she gathered throughout the writing process. Most were historical – postcards, an old map, and pieces that she had collected along the river, like bottles and a pair of pliers. And she actually organized a drone to take aerial photographs.
Helen was concerned that any image we used was accurate to the geographic area and time she was writing about. We were looking for a picture of a particular bird, but we couldn’t use one that was American – we had to find one that was Canadian. Trying to make it as authentic as possible was at the top of everyone’s list.
I tried to use the elements in a way that would help people identify where they are in the book. I don’t know if every reader will register these things, but over time they come together. I specifically used Tama Baldwin’s photos with Helen’s non-fiction text and also as section breakers. Her photographs are full bleed – it’s more modern than the inset pictures in frames. The historical pieces all have a textured coloured background.